Recycling. It’s something we all try to do to help the environment, but soon the free service of garden waste collection that encourages this could be changing for some Kent residents. This Wednesday, Canterbury City Council had a meeting to discuss plans to start charging for the removal of garden waste for their residents. If the plan goes ahead the council will start charging an annual subscription fee for the fortnightly collection from June this year.
This plan comes into direct conflict with the Government’s Waste and Resources Strategy, consulted on in 2019, which included a proposal to ensure that garden waste collection services are offered as a free service to all UK residents in order to encourage recycling. However, Canterbury Council say there is an emerging view that the Government will step back from this idea as the cost of compensating all councils would be hugely expensive. If free garden waste collections were to become Government policy this would be introduced in 2023.
Despite this proposal from the Government most constituencies in Kent have already begun charging for this service. From as early as 2004 Maidstone has been charging for these collections and most recently Tonbridge and Malling fell in line, going live with a subscription fee in September 2019. The current cost of this annual subscription in the rest of Kent ranges from £37.50 in Ashford up to £52 per bin in Tunbridge Wells.
Canterbury and Medway are currently the last two councils not to implement a fee. If these most recent plans from Canterbury are to go ahead this would make Medway the last local authority in Kent offering garden waste collections as a free service for residents, raising questions as to whether Medway will soon follow suit.
Councillor Filmer explained that there are no plans for Medways approach to change, “We’ve got no intention of changing what we consider to be one of the best collection services for recycling and black sack rubbish in the country.” Commenting, “It’s a personal choice for the council’s and we choose to do it the way we do in Medway because the residents are happy with it. If you look at our satisfaction figures regarding our waste collection they are probably one of the highest in the country.” Unlike most of Kent, in Medway garden waste collection is incorporated with the food waste and collected weekly.
The move by Canterbury Council comes as an attempt to balance its budget costs as it explains that the income potential is significant and whilst there is a statutory duty for councils to collect refuse, there is no obligation to collect garden waste. Based on the average charged in Kent of £45 per year this would cost residents £4.50 per month and could bring in an extra £1 million per year for the council. The argument is that the cost is currently shared by all council tax payers, whether they use the service or not, and it would be fairer to take a users pay approach.
But in addition to an increase in cost for residents this plan would also lower recycling numbers for the area as not everyone would be willing or able to pay the fee. Canterbury Council have said it expects this reduced amount of garden waste being collected would decrease its recycling rate by 11%. To mitigate this Canterbury council is proposing that some of the marketing budget is used to offer alternative means through which it can promote and encourage recycling including promoting home composting and a greater focus on the quality rather than the weight of recyclable materials going forward.
For now it seems Medway will continue to keep this service free for everyone despite the financial incentive of charging. Speaking on the merits of continuing to keep Medway’s garden waste collection free Councillor Filmer said, “I think the main thing is, everyone should try and increase the amount of recycling that we all do and we work very hard in Medway to try and increase the recycling and it’s all part of the offer that we give to the residents of Medway.” Adding, “We gave a promise in our manifesto that we would carry on with our weekly collections.”